Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 261–274 | Cite as

Examining the Setting Characteristics that Promote Survivor Empowerment: a Mixed Method Study

  • Nkiru NnawuleziEmail author
  • Cris M. Sullivan
  • Margaret Hacskaylo
Original Article


Many abusers engage in violent behaviors to systematically remove power from and maintain control over their intimate partners. Domestic violence crisis housing organizations aim to increase safety and help survivors regain their power. Yet, little is known about how these settings accomplish this aim. This study drew on empowerment and empowering settings theories to explore how organizational characteristics contributed to empowering practice, and how this practice subsequently promoted survivor empowerment. Researchers employed an exploratory-sequential (QUAL➔quan) mixed-methods design at a domestic violence housing organization. Twelve staff participated in inductive, qualitative interviews. This was followed by deductive, quantitative structured interviews with thirty-three survivors. Qualitative results from staff revealed that the setting was survivor-centered, mission-driven, and distinctive. Staff held basic assumptions about survivors’ right to self-determination. The relational culture emphasized partnerships, and people also had opportunities to hold meaningful roles within the organization. Setting leaders encouraged autonomy and creativity among all staff. Policies and procedures were also flexible. These setting characteristics were expected to support implementation of empowering practice. Quantitative results from the second phase supported a positive association between empowering practice and increased generalized, and safety-related, empowerment. This exploratory study suggests that setting characteristics are important to consider when understanding the complicated pathways that contribute to survivor empowerment and well-being.


Empowering settings Empowerment Shelters Intimate partner violence Domestic violence 



The authors thank the practitioners and survivors who participated in this study. We are also grateful to Dr. Kenneth Maton for his support of this manuscript.


  1. Agbenyiga, D. L. (2011). Organizational culture influence on service delivery: a mixed methods design in a child welfare setting. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(10), 1767–1778. Scholar
  2. Boswell, W. (2006). Aligning employees with the organization’s strategic objectives: out of ‘line of sight’, out of mind. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 17(9), 1489–1511. Scholar
  3. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101. Scholar
  4. Breiding, M. J., Chen, J., & Black, M. C. (2014). Intimate Partner Violence in the United States—2010. Atlanta: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Google Scholar
  5. Bybee, D. I., & Sullivan, C. M. (2002). The process through which a strengths-based intervention resulted in positive change for battered women over time. American Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 103–132. Scholar
  6. Cattaneo, L. B., & Chapman, A. R. (2010). The process of empowerment: a model for use in research and practice. American Psychologist, 65(7), 646–659. Scholar
  7. Cattaneo, L. B., & Goodman, L. A. (2015). What is empowerment anyway? A model for domestic violence practice, research and evaluation. Psychology of Violence, 5(1), 84–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. D'Enbeau, S., & Kunkel, A. (2013). (Mis)manged empowerment: Exploring paradoxes of practice in domestic violence prevention. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 41(2), 141–159.
  9. District Alliance for Safe Housing. (2013). Welcome to Cornerstone: Participant Handbook. Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  10. Donnelly, D. A., Cook, K. J., van Ausdale, D., & Foley, L. (2005). White privilege, color blindness, and services to battered women. Violence Against Women, 11(1), 6–37. Scholar
  11. Galano, M. M., Hunter, E. C., Howell, K. H., Miller, L. E., & Graham-Berman, S. A. (2013). Predicting shelter residence in women experiencing recent intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women, 19(4), 518–535. Scholar
  12. Goodman, L. A., Bennett Cattaneo, L., Thomas, K., Woulfe, J., Chong, S. K., & Fels Smyth, K. (2015). Advancing domestic violence program evaluation: development and validation of the measure of victim empowerment related to safety (MOVERS). Psychology of Violence, 5(4), 355–366. Scholar
  13. Goodman, L. A., Thomas, K., Cattaneo, L. B., Heimel, D., Woulfe, J., & Chong, S. K. (2016). Survivor-defined practice in domestic violence work: measure development and preliminary evidence of link to empowerment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 31(1), 163–185. Scholar
  14. Gregory, K., Nnawulezi, N., & Sullivan, C. (2017). Understanding how domestic violence shelter rules may influence survivor empowerment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Advanced online publication.
  15. Grossman, S. F., & Lundy, M. (2011). Characteristics of women who do and do not receive onsite shelter services from domestic violence programs. Violence Against Women, 17(8), 1024–1045. Scholar
  16. Iyengar, R., & Sabik, L. (2009). The dangerous shortage of domestic violence services. Health Affairs, 28(6), w1052–w1065. Scholar
  17. Kasturirangan, A. (2008). Empowerment and programs designed to address domestic violence. Violence Against Women, 14(12), 1465–1475. Scholar
  18. Kim, H., & Stoner, M. (2008). Burnout and turnover intention among social workers: effects of role stress, job autonomy, and social support. Administration in Social Work, 32(3), 5–25. Scholar
  19. Maton, K. (2008). Empowering community settings: agents of individual development, community betterment, and positive social change. American Journal of Community Psychology, 41, 4–21. Scholar
  20. Maton, K. I., & Brodsky, A. E. (2011). Empowering community settings: Theory, research, and action. In M. S. Aber, K. I. Maton, & E. Seidman (Eds.), Empowering setting and voices for social change (pp. 38–64). New York: Oxford University Press, Inc..Google Scholar
  21. Messing, J. T., O’Sullivan, C. S., Cavanaugh, C. E., Webster, D. W., & Campbell, J. (2016). Are abused women’s protective actions associated with reduced threats, stalking, and violence perpetrated by their male intimate partners. Violence Against Women, 23(3), 263–286. Scholar
  22. Nnawulezi, N., Godsay, S., Sullivan, C. M., Marcus, S., & Hacskaylo, M. (2018). The influence of low-barrier and voluntary service policies on survivor empowerment in a domestic violence housing organization. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
  23. Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Collins, K. M. T. (2007). A typology of mixed methods sampling designs in social sciences research. The Qualitative Report, 12(2), 281–316 Retrieved from: Scholar
  24. Perez, S., Johnson, D. M., & Wright, C. V. (2012). The attenuating effect of empowerment on IPV-related PTSD symptoms in battered women living in domestic violence shelters. Violence Against Women, 18(1), 102–117. Scholar
  25. Sauber, E., & O’Brien, K. (2017). Multiple losses: the psychological and economic well-being of survivors of intimate partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Advanced Online Publication.
  26. Silva, J. M., & Langhout, R. D. (2016). Moving toward an empowering setting in a first grade classroom serving primarily working class and working poor Latina/o children: an exploratory analysis. Urban Review, 48, 149–174. Scholar
  27. Song, X., & Lee, S. (2012). Bayesian and advanced Bayesian structural equation modeling with applications in the medical and behavioral sciences. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd..CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sullivan, C. M. (2017). Understanding how domestic violence support services promote survivor well-being: a conceptual model. Journal of Family Violence, 33(2), 123–131. Scholar
  29. Sullivan, C. M., & Virden, T. (2017). An eight state study on the relationships among domestic violence shelter services and residents’ self-efficacy and hopefulness. Journal of Family Violence, 32(8), 741–750. Scholar
  30. Thomas, K., Goodman, L., & Putnins, S. (2015). “I have lost everything”: tradeoffs of seeking safety from intimate partner violence. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 85(2), 170–180. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore CountyBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Michigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.District Alliance for Safe HousingWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations